Magazine article The Spectator

Passing the Time of Day

Magazine article The Spectator

Passing the Time of Day

Article excerpt

His shop was empty. There was no waiting. The barber delightedly welcomed me into his chair. Was I Iooking forward to the start of the new football season? Who did I support? Was it them over there? (He pointed with his head to the football stadium just across the road. ) He was a Manchester United supporter, he said proudly, running the clippers up the sides of my head. Everybody at home in Mauritius supported the Red Devils: his brothers and sisters, his father, his grandfather, his uncles.

He was a chatterbox. I was glad: I hadn't spoken to a soul all day. But on hearing he was a Manchester United supporter, I immediately lost confidence in his intelligence.

Conscious, perhaps, of his fall from grace he changed the subject and asked me how business was. He'd never known things this bad. But he counted himself lucky. At least he was still working. Some of his customers had lost their businesses and their homes.

They'd come in and sit in his chair looking 10, 20 years older. One customer came in for a trim after an absence of several months and his hair had fallen out. He'd had a lovely head of hair, said the barber. Very thick on top. Bushy. Then here he was with this big shining bald patch. Stress, he said. It does strange things to people.

I emerged from Beau Locks with the most ludicrous haircut since I woke up in hospital with bits of broken windscreen in my scalp and a nurse shaved the front of my head to get at them more easily with the tweezers.

The back and sides were shorn and the top was en bouffant. I looked like a Bedlington terrier.

I went to the cafe next door, bought a coffee at the counter and took it outside, where two tables and three chairs were set out on the pavement. The view was a busy main road, a bus stop, a melancholy queue, an ornate Victorian pub, a football stadium.

The buses going past were standing room only. The local population, if the people walking past were anything to go by, was 60 per cent Asian, 30 per cent Afro-Caribbean, 10 per cent white British.

At the other table were two elderly white men: one Irish, one English. The Englishman was reading about MPs' expenses in the Sun newspaper. His face was deathly white and he was wearing bedroom slippers. …

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